Deebo Samuel brings many things to the table as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
One of the biggest things he brings to the table is what he can do after the catch, with the football in his hands.
That was certainly on display Monday night, as Samuel and the 49ers knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions, beating the Los Angeles Rams by a final score of 24-9. In the victory, Samuel caught six passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, putting on a clinic after the catch. 105 of those yards came after the reception on Monday night, including 52 alone on Samuel’s touchdown.
Monday’s performance continued Samuel’s brilliance after the catch. Since entering the league in 2019, Samuel has over 700 yards of YAC Over Expectation (YACx). Not only is that the most from any receiver in the NFL over that period of time, Samuel is the only player with more than 500 yards of YACx since 2019.
After Samuel’s touchdown, which came in the second quarter on Monday night, the Next Gen account sent out this data:
YACOE Leaders (since 2019):
Deebo Samuel, 49ers (+699)
A.J. Brown, Eagles (+478)
Austin Ekeler, Chargers (+468)
*Ranks as of @19problemz 57-yd TD vs Rams
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 4, 2022
Samuel would tack on another 40 yards after the catch on two of his receptions in the second half, and with some of those yards coming over expectation, they added to his already impressive total.
Through four weeks, Samuel leads the NFL in YACx per reception, gaining an average of 4.7 additional yards of YAC over expectation on his receptions this season.
How is Samuel able to produce these numbers? Through a combination of design, vision, strength and explosiveness.
Take the long touchdown from Monday night, coming late in the first half. Samuel runs a simple slant route, and is able to pull in a high throw from Jimmy Garoppolo:
The design of this play helps to create space for Samuel. He uses a big split, aligning below the numbers and off the ball, while Jauan Jennings aligns in the slot and on the line of scrimmage. Jennings runs an “arch” route in Kyle Shanahan’s terminology, bending outside initially before circling back to the middle of the field. Samuel runs an under route, breaking under Jennings, but the initial release from the slot receiver helps to create some traffic for Samuel early in the play.
But with the throw high, Samuel is forced to adjust, and he has to leave the ground to make the catch. The leap, combined with the cornerback going for the interception, enables him to make the catch, but then he has to contend with the safety nearly immediately after returning to Earth. He does that with a near-instant jump cut to his left, dipping past the safety before continuing upfield.
From there, the vision and strength take over. Samuel pushes towards the outside, before cutting back to the middle of the field, causing the slot cornerback to miss on his tackle attempt. He then accelerates back towards the right, and the next threat he encounters is Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback on the other side of the field. Ramsey goes low on the tackle attempt … and Samuel runs right through the effort, putting his impressive play-strength to use.
Samuel then wins the footrace to the end zone, putting the cap on an tremendous effort.
So we can see how the initial design of the play gives him the initial opportunity, but then the receiver himself makes the most of it thanks to his own skill-set after the catch. That was the case on his big play in the second half. On this snap, Shanahan calls for a quick screen to Samuel, and gets some blockers in front of him. Again, the design provides him with the initial opportunity, but from there, it is up to what Samuel can do with the football in his hands.
Which is a lot:
The design of the play gives him the initial opportunity, as both Jennings, George Kittle get out in front as blockers, along with left tackle Jaylon Moore, left guard Aaron Banks, and rookie right guard Spencer Buford. The convoy escorts Samuel to about midfield, but when the bodies start to converge, that is when Samuel kicks into gear. He gets himself skinny through the pack of bodies around the 50-yard line, and then cuts back into open field, using his incredible vision as a ball-carrier.
Then he adds the play-strength. Leonard Floyd, racing across the field from his initial alignment over the right tackle, meets Samuel around the 37-yard line, but the receiver fights and stays upright, adding around seven more yards after that initial contact from Floyd.
At this point, I would like to invite you, dear reader, to rewatch this play a few more times and bring your eyes elsewhere. Floyd’s effort on this play is worthy of highlighting, as he starts this play over the right tackle and initially rushes Garoppolo, but when he spots the throw to Samuel, he reverses field and tracks him down from behind. Certainly worth revisiting.
Then, watch this play another time, and keep your eyes on rookie guard Buford. He sprints across the field, and gets in a shot on the safety amidst the big pack of bodies, setting the stage for Samuel’s cut to the inside.
All impressive stuff.
But the true art comes from Samuel, whose skill-set makes him a true threat every time he has the football in his hands. Getting him the football as much as possible is a priority for Shanahan, as he is a potential home run on every single play. Further, getting him the ball on these types of designs — short, quick throws — caters to what Garoppolo does best as a passer. Which is to operate as a point guard, distribute the football quickly, and play within structure.
Given what we have seen from the San Francisco defense this year, that could be enough to make a run in a wide-open NFC.